Written by Aleya Dutta Choudhury
At first sight, the little room situated on the topmost floor of an old suburban building looks like any other. It has DVDs messily stacked up on a coffee table, the wall peppered with framed theatre posters and a couple of people sitting about on clumsily arranged furniture.
In two hours, however, it transforms into a chaotic city in conflict divided by a river, religion, politics and economics as the people in the room, reading aloud, slip into characters from Zinne Harris’s pre-war-based play ‘Solstice’.
Great Text Readings meet on last Monday of every month to read plays based on a particular theme, followed by an intense discussion.
The current theme is on the environment, with ‘Solstice’ tracing the breakout of a violent conflict over the development of a region.
In the theatre world, these sessions are acknowledged as a great way to hone your acting skills and build a network. “When I met Kaizaad Kotwal ( actor) in a mall and asked him for acting advice he referred me to Great Text Readings, saying that it is very useful,” said 20-year-old Mihir Ahuja, who moved from Jamshedpur to pursue a career in acting. Having attended a few sessions already, he is determined to be a regular. “These readings have really helped me understand my emotions which is crucial for an actor. By playing around with dialogues, my vocabulary has also improved.”
One can pick whichever character they would like to read out at the beginning of each scene and everyone present generally gets an equal opportunity. “Being the voice of different characters from plays helps me understand real life individuals,” said Alistar Bennis, a regular attendee. “For instance in this play, the character Michel is a religious man who resists the development of his land with a vengeance. He reminds me a lot about my mother. They are both stubborn and leave a lot of problems to the Lord to solve.”
Along with lemon squash and biscuits, copies of the script are kept piled up on the table for anyone to pick. The vibe is informal. “People from different walks of life are able to come together and read with no judgment. When I read a play as part of an audition I’m always tense and unable to really appreciate it. But here I can actually enjoy playing a character,” said Shruti Sunder, 28. “Very few plays are royalty free and so its expensive to procure and read them. Such plays are accessible here, and you find plays that you generally have not heard of before.”
At the heart of this group is Quasar Padamsee, who set up Great Text Readings in 2001. “Reading a play on your own is boring, so we set up this platform. It’s expanded a lot and now isn’t restricted just to theatre enthusiasts and actors. Through the years, we’ve had all sorts of people who come here to read,” he said. “Once we had this brilliant guy with a speech impediment to practise reading. He ultimately gained a lot of confidence and later I saw him perform flawlessly in a theatre production.”
Pronouncing theatre his religion, Padamsee said, “Everyone with an interest in the arts is basically an anthropologist, trying to understand human behaviour and relationships. Reading out plays will activate your imagination, improve you as an actor and more importantly as a human being.”